Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

Star Maidens: Gender and Science Fiction in the 1970s

Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

Star Maidens: Gender and Science Fiction in the 1970s

Article excerpt

Star Maidens (UK/West Germany 1976) is a largely overlooked series in the history of British sf television. This analysis will attend to the series' absence from critical histories of British television and British sf and read the series from a feminist perspective in relation to contemporary gender issues. Re-evaluating the series from a feminist perspective is important not only to highlight the feminist themes it negotiates, but also to reinsert it into the history of British sf television that has largely ignored this women-centred series.

Star Maidens has been largely overlooked in both popular and academic circles. Unlike such contemporary British sf series as Doctor Who (UK 1963-1989), UFO (UK 1970-1971), Space: 1999 (UK/Italy 1975-1977) and Blakes 7 (UK 1978-1981), Star Maidens does not have a large Anglophone fan following and is largely absent from the fan convention circuit.1 The lack of fan activity may be attributed to its short run: only one season on Britain's ITV and Germany's ARD; although it was rebroadcast on at least two occasions in Germany, the series was rarely rebroadcast in Great Britain and other Anglophone countries. Moreover, Star Maidens never established a consistent time slot on ITV in the UK during its original run, which made gaining a wide audience difficult.2 Although Star Maidens was released on DVD by Delta Entertainment in Great Britain in 2005, the gap of nearly thirty years diminished the possibilities of building a large fan community, whose engagement is largely dependent on repeat viewings and close analysis.

Star Maidens' neglect in academic circles may be attributed to similar causes, including the lack of significant cult fan audiences who would serve as a potential market for such work. Moreover, the lack of scholarship on the series may also be attributed to the overall limited scholarship on British sf television. As John Cook, co-editor of the sole anthology on the topic, argues British sf television is an 'under-researched area of media and cultural criticism. Too often it has been dismissed as laughably cheap in comparison to bigger-budget American rivals such as the various series of the Star Trek franchise (NBC, 1966-1969; 1987-2005), or severely wanting in terms of its quality of aspiration when regarded alongside sf cinema on the one hand and sf literature on the other' (2). Existing scholarship has tended to focus on audiences or on case studies, in which a limited number of, usually better known, series receive serious attention.

British television scholarship also tends to emphasise publicly funded, 'quality' BBC programming over commercial programming on ITV, which is often associated with 'lowbrow' genres such as quiz and game shows, light entertainment and action series (Johnson and Turnock 3). As Catherine Johnson and Rob Turnock argue, this 'vexed issue of value' reveals 'gendered and class-based rhetoric in the historical development of TV studies' which often works 'to exclude from analysis the more "popular", "trivial" and "commercial" of ITV's programming output' (198). Compounding the issue, the production files of many ITV series are often inaccessible because of ITV's 'regional structure, which has lead to its paper archive being spread across a wide range of regional companies, many of which no longer exist' (Johnson and Turnock 5). The difficulty of fully unearthing materials related to Star Maidens is, as scholars such as Michelle Hilmes, Rachel Moseley and Helen Wheatley have argued, a 'feminist issue': if material related to women-centred series are unavailable in archives then those works are excluded from the histories of television. The academic and popular neglect of Star Maidens is unfortunate because it excludes from view the complicated and contradictory cultural work the series performs in relation to feminism and gender that can nuance our understanding of sf television. As many critics have pointed out, the sf genre is especially revealing about female representation and misrepresentation (Telotte 51). …

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